An avalanche mitigation study for the neighborhoods at the base of Mt. Juneau says the best way to manage risk is to have the city buyout homes in the area.
Juneau Emergency Programs Manager Tom Mattice says that’s not the answer the city was hoping for when it commissioned the study. He’ll hold a public hearing tonight on the report.
We were hoping that we could build big diversion dams above the houses, and put in some kind of mitigation systems on the hill that did active avalanche control,” Mattice says. “Our goal was not to create a finding that we had to buy everything out and move it. But the reality is we asked the best people in the world to give us their assessment and that’s what they came up with.”
The study – conducted last year by consultants from the WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research in Switzerland – says hillside diversion systems might work above the White Subdivision, but further study is needed.
Mattice will describe the research and proposed solutions, and take questions at tonight’s public meeting. Then he plans to rewrite Juneau’s All Hazards Mitigation Plan to incorporate the study’s findings. Changes to the plan must be submitted to the state and federal governments for approval. Once that happens, Mattice says the city could get funds for a potential buyout through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“Basically, anytime there is a disaster in the State of Alaska, if it is a federally declared disaster, there is a certain amount of money that is spent. At the same time, they earmark a percentage of that dollar figure, and set it aside for mitigating against future disasters,” he says.
Mattice stresses that any buyout program would be voluntary for homeowners.
“The city can’t just say, ‘This is what we want to do,’ without getting buy-in from other parties, including the public,” says Mattice. “So having this public hearing is one of the many steps that’s needed to gain approval of an update to the All Hazards Mitigation Plan.”
Mattice says he’s talked to some residents of the White Subdivision about the mitigation report, but has yet to discuss it with anyone who lives in the Behrends neighborhood.
Tonight’s public hearing starts at 7 p.m. in CBJ Assembly Chambers at City Hall.